An Explorer's Guide to Atlin, British Columbia
This 6-page illustrated article is from the school history book "History and Geography of British Columbia," by Lawson and Young, published in 1913 by The Educational Book Co. Ltd., Toronto.
Gold Discovered in Atlin.
In the autumn of 1898, through the discovery of gold, Atlin came before the world's notice. Previously, it was only the hunting ground of the Taku-Teslin Indians.
So little was known about it, that during its first year as a mining camp, there was uncertainty as to whether it was in British Columbia, the North-West Territories, or Alaska. For some years it was looked upon as the foremost placer camp in British Columbia.
It is easily reached. Car Cross, a station on "The White
Pass and Yukon Route," 68 miles from Skagway, is the railway divisional point. Twice a week during the summer a steamer plying on Lake Tagish makes connection with the train.
In the early morning we arrive at Taku, the stopping place of the steamer. After two and a half miles of railway portage we come to Lake Atlin, and another steamer conveys us to the town of Atlin on the opposite side of the lake. It has taken twenty-four hours to come from Skagway.
The Largest Lake in the Province.
Atlin Lake is the largest and, we believe, the most beautiful lake in the province. It is encircled by snow-clad mountains, and out of its limpid waters rise many islands. Through its outlet - the Atlinto River - it becomes one of the head waters of the Yukon River. The lake runs north and south. Midway on its eastern side, it receives the water of Pine Creek, the Creek where the first gold was discovered.
Pine Creek and its tributaries, especially Spruce, Gold Run and Boulder, have been the mainstay of Atlin. Traces of gold, however, can be found in every creek. Without doubt, as rich ground as any worked will yet be located. Atlin gold is generally coarse and is worth about $16.00 an ounce. The largest nugget found weighed 48 ounces ounces and was valued at $875.00.
The methods of mining followed may be placed under four heads: (1) Individual Placer Mining, (2) Hydraulicing. (3) Dredging, (4) Steam-shovel.
Sluicing and Panning.
In Individual Mining the gold-bearing gravel is handled with pick and shovel. When the gravel is thrown into sluice boxes, the gold being heavy sinks to the bottom and is held between "riffles," while the "tailings" (i.e. the gravel without the gold) are dumped at the end of the boxes. When a "clean-up" is made, the water is turned off, and the riffles - either poles or blocks - are taken out. Then the material in the boxes is "panned," that is, washed with a peculiar rotary motion in a shallow iron pan. Gradualiy the pan is emptied of its contents until naught remains but black sand and gold. The black sand is got rid of by blowing and using a magnet. If the gold is fine, quicksilver is used to collect it.
Where gravel is moved by hand, the ground must be very rich in gold in order to pay more than wages. Hydraulicing is a manner of working ground that would not pay the individual miner. Water under high pressure is directed through a "giant" or steel pipe against a bank of gravel. By the force of the water the bank is broken down and passes as a muddy stream through the sluice boxes.
But hydraulicing has its drawbacks. There must be a good head of water and adequate dump. These are often impossible on flat land. In that case dredging becomes a feasible method of working. The dredge works by electricity. A chain of buckets lifts the gravel and tumbles it into a revolving cylinder fitted with jets of water. Through holes in the cylinder, the finer material drops into sluice boxes, whereas the boulders, too big for the holes, roll into chutes which dump them at the side of the dredge.
Ground that is too hard, or that contains too many boulders, to be dredged successfully is worked by steam-shovel. When the shovel has filled itself, it empties its load into dump-cars which convey the gravel to sluice-boxes.
The town of Atlin is charmingly situated on the lake front. Though here and there tents remain as relics of pioneer days, they have in general been replaced by comfortable cabins and houses. The public buildings are well built with a view to permanence. Delicacies as well as necessities are found in the shops, for bacon and beans no longer form the staple diet. In the gardens all the common vegetables are raised. Indeed potatoes, turnips, carrots and cauliflower have a sweetness and lettuce a crispness that is unusual. Atlin is a relay station of the Dominion Telegraph. On account of leakage of current along the line, messages from Ashcroft to Dawson are here strengthened.
No better roads are to be found anywhere than those leading to the principal creeks. A rubber-tired carriage and spirited horse - for Atlin is quite civilized - enable these roads to be enjoyed. In winter, dogs are more used than horses. One in front of another, with the most sagacious as leader, they are harnessed to a narrow sleigh. Without rein or whip they trot steadily along the trail at the rate of six miles an hour. The "musher," or driver, runs behind the sleigh. "Mush" is a corruption of the French word marche, and means "go ahead."
The summer though short is warm and full of sunshine. In June there is no night, for the sun rises about two and sets toward ten. Between sunset and sunrise there is bright twilight. Winter weather is on the whole moderate. So dry is the air that even intense cold is not much felt. Three to four feet is the ordinary depth of snow. Spring is rather a tedious season, because, though the snow goes off the ground in April, the ice in the lake does not break up until May.
The Largest Inland Glacier.
Before leaving Atlin we must visit the Llewellyn Glacier, so far as known, the largest inland glacier on this continent. We go to the south end of the lake, and, following a rough trail from the lakeside, emerge upon a flat covered with gravel and
sand. At every step our feet sink into the loose soil. Now we have gained the ice! By cutting out steps we climb to its surface. The ice looks black. That is on account of the powdered rock. Though the walking is good, we have to be on the lookout for crevasses or rents in the ice. To fall into one of these means destruction. Some of them are narrow, and we can jump across; at other times we have to retrace our steps. Lying at the edge of one crevasse, we look down upon a waterfall of thirty feet, imprisoned in ice of a heavenly blue. Hours pass as we walk, but the air is so exhilarating that we feel no fatigue. This glacier extends for sixty miles as one continuous ice-field, out of which rise isolated mountain peaks.
The Atlin Electoral District extends as far south as the Stikine River, up which many an expedition tried to gain the Klondike in 1898. Telegraph Creek is the head of navigation, a Hudson's Bay post, and a station of the Dominion Telegraph. From it a pack-trail goes to Dease Lake. On Dease River, a tributary of the Liard River, gold-mining has been carried on for many years. The Liard country contains thousands of acres never yet looked upon by a white man. It, as well as Atlin, forms part of the Cassiar mining district.
Animals and Birds.
The whole of this northern country abounds in game. There are moose and caribou; mountain sheep and mountain goat; grizzly, cinnamon, brown, black, and silver-tip bears; wolves and wolverines; black, silver, and red foxes; lynx and marten. Of the countless ducks, the mallards, teal and butter balls are considered least fishy. Blue, willow, and spruce grouse; geese, and ptarmigan, complete the list of game birds. In the lakes are trout, grayling and white fish.